Why Do Search Engines Favor Informational Sites Over Commercial Sites?

SEO Question: I have noticed many more content heavy websites in Google's search results over the last year or two. Why does it seem it is getting harder for commercial sites to rank?

SEO Answer: Within the commercial realm there are more and more competing sites. Building content, at one time primarily a hobby only project, has become far more lucrative in recent years. Not only have content management systems like Movable Type and Wordpress became cheaply or freely available, but AdSense and affiliate marketing have vastly increased the number of real and fake content sites on the market over the last couple years.

Duplicate content filters have improved, and many shell product catalogs have been filtered out of Google's search results. It seems like some older sites are getting away with some rather shoddy stuff in Google, but as they get more user data and more people create quality content you can look for the search engine to shift away from that loophole.

Search algorithms prefer informational websites over commercial ones for many reasons:

  • they want commercial sites to buy their ads

  • the search ads provide commercial results. they prefer to have some informational results to help balance out the search results.
  • in competitive marketplaces there tends to be many more commercial sites than informational sites
  • if multiple merchants have similar product databases it does not drastically improve the user experience to show hollow shell pages over and over again from a wide variety of merchants
  • many quality informational sites link to related resources that lead searchers to more abstract answers that search engines are not yet advanced enough to answer
  • many informational sites are monetized using contextual ads provided by search engines. those give engines a second chance at revenue after the search

Also keep in mind that most merchant sites focus on the same small core group of keywords. Anything involved with big business can take weeks or months to do...or longer if the company is big or the content management system is highly complex.

For a content based website it takes no time at all to do keyword research using some of the keyword research tools on the market, and then quickly create pages around common customer questions, concerns and buying points. If few sites cover those topics with specific pages then it is low hanging fruit waiting to be claimed. I think it was Peter D who said the key to making money on search was to dig where other people were not digging.

Yahoo! currently offers a paid inclusion program (sidenote: which I generally recommend avoiding) which ensures sites are indexed in Yahoo!. Yahoo! charges those sites a flat rate per click for traffic Yahoo! delivers. That per click fee means that for many search queries it may make sense for them to allow many commercial sites to rank in the search results.

As the largest content site, Yahoo!'s search results also offers quick links to many of their internal content channels, which lessens their need for content from other sources. Make no mistake though, Yahoo! has the ability to try to determine how commercial a website is. See their Yahoo! Mindset tool for an example of how results can be weighted toward either commercial or informational resources.

If you look at the Mindset dial and use it to compare the default search results from Yahoo! and Google think of Google as being turned much further toward research. If Yahoo! drops their paid inclusion program you can bet that they will dial their results more toward the research angle, just like Google is.

Some commercial websites, like Amazon, offer rich interactive features that make them easy to reference (both from a webmaster perspective and a search engine perspective), but generally most commercial sites are not highly interactive and most webmasters would typically be far more inclined to link to quality content sites than overtly commercial sites.

If you are in a competitive field it may make sense to look at Librarians' Internet Index or read this newsletter to see what sort of content sites librarians prefer and trust.

The average person on the web may not be as information savvy as librarians are, so it may also help to look at ideas that go viral by looking at sites like Digg, Memeorandum, or Del.icio.us.

You can also learn a lot content ideas by looking at some of the top ranked content sites in your vertical and related verticals which you are interested in and knowledgeable.

Even commercial sites can still be highly linkable if they are feature rich or offer quality answers to relevant topical questions that competing sites typically ignore.

How do I do Search Engine Optimization for a Small Site?

SEO question: How do I do SEO for a small commercial website? Adding more pages will make it look more unprofessional, and so not something I really want to do?

SEO Answer: Sometimes small sites can be easier to do SEO for than big sites.

Faults of big commercial sites:
Some big sites that are product catalogs may require significant link popularity to get indexed. Also if you are dealing with thousands and thousands and thousands of pages it can be hard to make them unique enough to stay indexed as search algorithms continue to advance. Search engines are getting better at comparing pages and sites. If the only difference across most pages of your many thousand page site are a few part numbers then many pages may be considered duplicate content.

Benefits of a small site:
If a site is small that makes it easy to concentrate your internal link popularity on the most important issues, ideas, and keywords. Small hyper targeted sites also work well at being able to dominate those niche markets. You can create a site name based on the vertical and use the domain name to your advantage.

If you are trying to tackle insurance then a small site is not going to get you anywhere unless you are targeting niche types of insurance.

I tend to be a bit verbose (which is perhaps why I wrote an ebook ;) but I also do not buy that adding pages to a commercial site makes a site less professional. Web pages are just a bunch of bits, but those bits are your salesmen.

Which site would YOU trust more:

  1. Get the lead or sale or the prospective client can screw off. If they want anything they must pay first.

  2. Offers substantial information about the products they sell. Also builds credibility with FAQ section, answering common questions along the buying cycle with content focused on the issues that people tend to think are important before making a purchase.

If you hype it enough, have a high price point and get affiliates pushing it hard enough #1 may win, but in most markets most of the time site #2 will win.

If their site is exceptionally small then adding a few pages with about us and frequently asked questions should allow you to build credibility and target new traffic streams.

If competing sites have a huge brand that you can't afford to compete with one of the best ways to chip away at them is to create useful content, tools, and ideas that solve market problems that have not yet been solved.

If your content is great then it may garner some natural citations, but you need to build at least a few links for search engines to trust your site enough to where others will find it.

Some webmasters are also afraid to link out to relevant resources. I think that most good websites link out to at least a few decent resources. Don't be afraid to link at relevant .gov or .edu pages, industry trade organizations, local chamber of commerce sites and other sites that make sense to reference.

Yahoo! to Ban Comparitive Search Ads

Danny points at a SEW thread noting that starting next month Yahoo! will no longer allow competing businesses to bid on trademark phrases:

"On March 1, 2006, Yahoo! Search Marketing will modify its editorial guidelines regarding the use of keywords containing trademarks. Previously, we allowed competitive advertising by allowing advertisers to bid on third-party trademarks if those advertisers offered detailed comparative information about the trademark owner's products or services in comparison to the competitive products and services that were offered or promoted on the advertiser's site.

In order to more easily deliver quality user experiences when users search on terms that are trademarks, Yahoo! Search Marketing has determined that we will no longer allow bidding on keywords containing competitor trademarks."

Trademark terms are some of the most valuable words in the search space. While this move may not be surprising given Yahoo!'s past activities, will this move cause other engines to change their policies? How will this policy effect comparison sites which offer many brands on the landing page? Is Yahoo! trying to commoditize the search marketplace to help them make more money away from search?

They still support typosquatting and cracking sites away from search, but may that be coming to an end too? The recent Perfect 10 vs Google lawsuit points to newtwork quality becoming a more important issue.

Conversational Advertising

There has been buzz about conversational marketing recently, including exposure on Poynter and Performancing.

I think conversational advertising works primarily for the following groups:

  • those who can give away their entire product free because they realize that the viral buzz around it will cause many more follow on customers...this works especially well if the product is informational related or downloadable software that has negligible per unit cost

  • network based companies that can offer a free trial (perhaps even lifetime free trial) of a high value product which increases in value through subscriber growth. Think VoIP companies, etc.

When CashKeywords sponsored Threadwatch it was a hit, largely because they offered the option of getting their entire product free of charge. Typically though marketers are greedier and/or short sighted, you get people who:

While idealistically conversational marketing should work great there are many fundamental errors with it.

  1. People are skeptical of advertising.

  2. By default the group of people asked to comment on an ad are going to be more inclined to offer negative feedback.
  3. The people who buy and like your product and comment on it would likely give you more useful feedback directly.
  4. Threads often run on tangents. If it is a paid ad the odds of the tangent being a negative one are much higher.
  5. Most legitimate companies have made a few mistakes and/or have a few skeletons in their closet. If they have not made any mistakes then they probably are not interesting enough to be comment worthy.

The problem that makes conversational marketing sound appealing is that many of the best content providers do not make near enough off their content due to limited ad sales resources and content topic selection of hypersaturated low value topics.

As an ad buyer, when I am buying ad space in hyper-saturated markets I respect the fact that there is going to be under-priced ad inventory. Marketers market on spyware because it has a positive ROI. Marketers market on stolen or garbage content funded by Google AdWords because it is profitable.

When doing the pay per influence model you don't buy the influence of those with reach. If they are selling that they lose their credibility...and eventually their reach. All you are merely doing is overpaying for ad space near their content.

Look at the Superbowl. Those ads are likely overpriced largely because they give advertisers such large exposure. Now some of them may have viral follow up elements that add value in other ways, but most ads do not do that.

I sell conversational ads on Threadwatch and get like 1 enquery a month. Not much considering that is one of the 10 or so most powerful sites in this industry.

I have also cut back most of my ad spend for this site outside of AdWords because most of it offers a net negative ROI...whereas I might make a slight profit with AdWords.

Do I get some love from conversational marketing? You bet your ass I do. In the last couple days I stumbled across this SEO Book mention and another great thread at Digital Point. That is conversational marketing. You commenting on this thread is likely going to be good conversational marketing. Sites that make you feel you know the owner will continue to grow in reach.

You can't make happy customers want to give positive feedback on someone else's site by advertising there. They have to already want to do it. And you can't pay for it or some people will question it for being fake.

Is It Worth Creating a Site Broader than My Niche?

SEO Question: I am interested in a topic, but am not sure if I should create a niche site within that topic or create a site about that topic?

SEO Answer: As long as there is a functional business model there it is almost always worth niching down a site. Having said that sometimes it makes sense to create a second site slightly broader nature as it will teach you more about how your niche fits into the broader category.

For a while a gave the advice that it might be a good idea to create a directory site one level above your category. For example:

  • if you did link building you could create a directory of SEO resources.

  • if you focused on SEO you could create a meta search engine, search rating system, or a site about search
  • If you focused on currency trading or currency collecting you could make a site about currency or the history of currency.

The broader sites need not be directories specifically, just informational sites you can use to help learn about your market. Other advantages of creating a site that relates to your end business are:

  • social networking: learn who the players in your market are. give them another way to find out who you are.

  • learn more about your business: if your portal becomes popular you may be able to sell ad space on it. The categories with the most interest or highest paying advertisers may be good businesses to jump in. I can't tell you how many SEO companies create sites based on ideas from blowhard prospective clients.
  • drive leads: The guy who owns StateCollege.com also uses that site to sell internet marketing services to local companies. You can target locally or topically.
  • nepotistic links: while listing other good resources you can list your site near the top of your category to help build your brand. If you keep the site fairly non commercial and make it useful (to where you often find yourself going back to it to use it) then odds are you should be able to pick up some good links.

After you get established and know what niche you want to work in it is probably best to focus in on the main site, but off the start it does not hurt to have a foot in a few different ponds until you figure out what you really want to do.

Also worth noting that it is easy to get discouraged because sometimes the only thing separating you and success is time and there is only so much that you can force it. After a year or so the logarithmic and profitable growth really kicks in though.

What Are Poison Words? Do They Matter?

SEO Question: I'm researching poison or forbidden words and I've only found a few vague or older posts from 2000 in a few SEO forums. Supposedly if a site uses poison words in the title etc. it is pushed way down in the SERPs. Any idea if this is fact or fiction? I'd love a complete list of poison words, although right now I'm specifically trying to find out if sale, best, about, contact us, website, or free shipping are poison because I have a retail product site with those words in the home page title, description, and body text.

SEO Answer:
Poison words were a way to deweight low quality content pages:
I have actually never put much effort into researching poison words, but I will try to give my opinion on the subject.

The initial research and information about poison words came out well before I jumped into the SEO market. This page talks about the idea of poison words:

Poison words, are words that are known to decrease your pages rankings if a search engine finds them in the title, description or in the url. They don't kill, they just bury pages in rankings.

Generally, people think of adult words first. Adult words (obscene) often put your page in an adult category where it is filtered out by various filters at search engines.

Newer non-adult Poison Words are being uncovered. These words don't throw you into a different category, then just decrease your rankings. Poison Words signal to a search engine, that this page is of low value.

Forums are Bad?
That same page goes on to cite how forum may have been a bad word around that time:

The worst of the lot would probably be the word "forum". Chat and BBS forum systems have taking body shots by all the major search engines this year. Two well know search engines now specifically look for links to BBS software makers and kill the pages in the index outright - possibly the whole domain.

Other possible poison title/url words and phrases that come to mind: UBB, BBS, Ebay, and all variations on the pa-id to surf program keywords.

Why Would Forums Have Been Bad?
As stated above, I was not around on the web during that time period, so I can only guess as to why forum would have been such a bad word.

Largely I think it would have came down to two factors:

  • overweighting of forums in the search results

  • how easy it was (and still is) to spam forums

In early 2000 there were far fewer pages on the web than there are today. Because of the textual nature of forums and how many pages forum conversations generated it would not surprise me if forums tended to make up too large of a percentage of the search results, and thus they had to offset that by deweighting forums.

Things which show either a lack of moderation of content or page contents that are not vetted by the site publisher may make search engines want to consider deweighting a page. Imagine a page with few inbound links from outside sites and 100 external links on the page, and all 100 links used the nofollow attribute. If you were an engine would you want to trust that page much? I wouldn't.

The Web Was Much Smaller:
To put it in perspective, back in early 2000 Google was still pushing people toward the Google Directory on their home page, had a link to their awards page pushing Yahoo! and did not even yet have the number of documents page count that they had for about 4 or 5 years. On June 26th of 2000 Google announced that they had 560 million full-text indexed web pages and 500 million partially indexed URLs. Right now Webmasterworld has over 2 million pages in Google's index, so you can see how a few large forum sites would be able to dominate a search index that small. Combine that with many forums being hit by internet marketers aggressively spamming them and the content seems less desirable.

Deweighting User Interaction:
As far as deweighting pages that allow user interaction that makes sense as well. Why? Because for most sites the page and site gain authority primarily for the actions of the site owner or paid editors. If third parties can add content to a page they can influence the relevancy of that document, and thus leverage the authority of the original author without much expense. That is why search engineers pushed the nofollow attribute so hard.

Plus if pages and sites are legitimate and allow value added useful community interaction typically those sites will get more links and authority, so knocking them down a bit for allowing interactivity and third party publishing does not really hurt them - since the legitimate sites would make that right back through gaining more citations.

Turning a Page Into Spam:
I don't search as much as I would like to because I spend too much time reading and writing stuff (and not enough time researching), but on occasion I search around. I have seen totally unrelated blog posts rank #1 on Google for certain types of niche pornography because someone came by and left a comment that made that document become relevant to the uber gross porn query.

Blog Comment and RSS Spam:
In a recent post on SEO Buzz Box DaveN hinted that comments may make a page be seen as less clean, and thus give a search engine a reason to deweight it. Combine that with the vastly growing field of citation spam and it makes sense that Google would not want to promote similar content that is only differentiated by ad placement and a few third party comments.

Ebb and Flow:
So given that forums were a type of content that may have been overrepresented and undesirable I think it is worth noting that maybe right now they may be considered to be better than they once were. Perhaps contextual advertising programs and the rebound of online advertising may have gave forum owners more compensation which allow them to run better forums. Also algorithms are more link focused and most forum pages tend to score naturally poor because there are so many pages as compared to the quantity and quality of inbound links to most forums.

Search engines constantly battle with marketers for what types of sites to rank in the search results.

Sometimes you will notice Amazon and large vertical sites ranking for almost everything under the sun. At other times directories are given more weight than would seem logical.

In late 2003, around the time of the Google Update Florida directories started showing up way too much in the search results. People took advantage of the opportunity and thousands of vertically focused or general PageRank selling directories sprung up.

Since then many of those directories seem to be packing less punch in the SERPs - in direct rankings and with how much their links help other sites.

Closing Holes Opens New Ones:
So what you see is wave after wave of content type. As search engines close some holes they open up others. When WG and Oilman interviewed Matt Cutts they also spoke about how the face of spam has - at least for now - moved from blog spam sites to subdomains off established sites. Right now Google is putting too much weight on old established sites.

Blogs Getting Away With a Bit Much:
With all of the blog networks springing up right now I wouldn't be surprised if some search engineers were starting to get sick of blogs, and looking for ways to deweight some of those networks as well. That is another example of why forums may become more desirable...if blogs are so hot that everyone and their dog has 5 of them maybe the people who are looking to make a quick buck are going to be more inclined to run blogs than forums.

Poison Words No Longer Needed?
That sorta leads me into my next point. I don't think poison words in their old traditional sense are as important as they may have been.

I still think the concept of poison words has a roll, but it is likely minimal other than how much search engines can trust citations. IE: pages that flag for poison words may not pass as much outbound link authority.

The inverse rule of link quality states that the effect of a link is going to be inversely proportional to how easy it is for a competing site to gain that same link.

So if the words "add URL" and "buy PageRank" are on the page those links may not count as much as other types of links. On this page Ciml noted how guestbook pages were not passing PageRank, but then Google undid that, at least to some extent. Stop words may not be necessary to deweight low quality links though. De-weighting may occur fairly naturally via other algorithmic mechanisms that generally parallel the effect of stop words:

Search engines collect more data and have far better technology as well. If pages are not found useful by searchers then they will eventually rank lower in the search results.

Establishing Trust:
So right now - and going forward - search relevancy will be about establishing trust. How trust is established will continue to evolve. Those who have more trust will also be able to get away with more aggressive marketing. Some new sites that use the DP coop network do not do that well with it, but sites that are either old and/or have built up significant usage data via email or viral marketing seem to be able to do more with it.

Google's Informational Bias:
Also note that Google tends to be a bit biased toward sites they believe to be informational in nature. Yahoo! Mindset shows how easy it is for search engines to adjust that sort of bias. You could think of words like shopping carts and checkout as being treated as poison words, but odds are highly likely that if a merchant site provides a useful feature rich page that search engines want that content. Most merchant sites that are getting whacked in Google are likely getting whacked for having thin sites with near duplicate content on most pages or for having unnatural linkage profiles.

Many thin affiliate sites are also getting hit for having no original content and outbound affiliate links on nearly every page.

Improving Content Quality:
With all informational databases Google pushes they first push getting as much of it as possible, and then as time passes they learn to better understand it (looking ultimately at human interaction), and try to push for the creation of higher quality content. Most web based publishers will face a huge strugle with balancing content quality and content cost.

The only way their business model works is if others allow them to give people free access to high quality content. I don't think that poison words are necessarily needed to do that though...at least not for most natural created-for-human pages in their general search database.

Vertical Search:
Some vertical search engines may use certain words for inclusion or exclusion in their database. For example look at Edgeio or NFFC's post on Become.com.

Alternate Meaning for Poison Words:
Some people have also called terms poison words because some of them throw off contextual ad targeting.

Google allows you to use section targeting to help target your AdSense ads away from common generic words like blog.

Flash Designer Marketing Idea...

I still want this blog to primarily be about SEO, but I am going to start posting a bunch more about other web aspects and other marketing ideas I have, because as the algorithms advance those who have great holistic or viral ideas will be the ones who win. Those who chase the algorithms will need to have smarts and resources beyond what the average person has. Almost anyone can be creative and if you tune in to culture the marketing ideas tend to throw themselves at you.

Recently on a hunting expedition Dick Cheney shot a 78 year old man.

I am not a flash designer, but if I were I would love to create a flash game called Hunting With Dick.

If someone does it and does it well they should easily get a PageRank 7, a higher PageRank than this site has. Some source material:

I really would love to see this game. Anyone think I should hold a prize giving contest?

Won't It Piss Some People Off?
Of course it would, but recently a ringtone company created a fake sexual ringing tone site called Pheretones. It spread like wildfire.

"You run the risk in any campaign like this that you might offend somebody," he said. "But even if you offend somebody, it seems to spread the gospel of the campaign."

Conversation is the key to traffic.

Ultimately most people working on the web are going to get squeezed as marketing inefficiencies get taken care of.

Why not create many doorways to your personality so people with similar interests can find you? Why not work for clients that you can be passionate about? Imagine if every new client was your favorite person to work with.

When I interviewed NFFC he stated:

I think the best brands, the best sites have a large portion of their founders personality in them. Never be afraid to be yourself, after all there are 1/2 billion people on the www, not all of them have to agree with you. Concentrate on the ones that share your views, concentrate on making their experience the very best it can be, the rest forget them.

Or to put it another way, the best sites say - this is what we do, this is how we do it, if you don't like it go somewhere else.

The Mainstream Media Has Less Credibility than Bloggers

As I read and learn more I come to appreciate just how dumb I am. And I mean that in a good way. The biggest reason I like blogs is coming across articles with simple lines like:

Hypocrisy abounds: Everyone supports the free speech they agree with.

In relationship to the US media's self censorship policies.

The problem with media censorship is that most forms of consumer driven media are largely based on mainstream media.

Telling half of the story is not honest. Having half of the story doesn't help anything other than corruption. But maybe that is what we want.

The nanny media, even more prudish since 9/11, covers our millions of eyes to protect us from our own icky deeds. In Afghanistan in 2001, while covering a war that had officially killed 12 civilians, I watched a colleague from a major television network collate footage of a B-52 bombing indiscriminately obliterating a civilian neighborhood. "If people saw what bombing looks like here on the ground," he observed as body parts and burning houses and screaming children filled the screen, "they would demand an end to it. Which is why this will never air on American television."

If you go to Alexa and Blogpulse to see how the article is spreading. You can help it spread by mentioning it on your site.

The hollowness of the whole US pro free speech stuff shows well when you notice that almost nobody is searching for it, and a dime a click is enough to be one of the top ads on the issue. It is an issue the media would rather not talk about, at least not honestly.

Will RSS Help My Site Rank Better?

SEO Question: Will rss feeds help my web site rankings, due to automatic updates?

SEO Answer: Some search engines may like frequently updated content, but you also want to have people link at your site or actively read the new information. Without those just adding a feed will not do much for most webmasters.

RSS in and of itself is just a tool.

Some people like to parallel RSS with email, but the key element with RSS is to realize it as a permission based subscription. People don't just mix random RSS feeds together and then subscribe to it (or at least most people do not).

They subscribe because they are genuinely interested in your topic, timeliness, personality or presentation.

The timeliness part is getting harder with meme trackers (expect many topical ones in the next year or two), everyone becoming an author, and the death of the scoop. In fact, chasing the timliness angle in competitive topics leads to the biggest downfall in the subscription model, people subscribing to me too posts - the noise they were trying to avoid. Many of the people who flocked to blogs from forums are likely getting burned out by blogs too, but much of that is topic dependant.

If an industry is hyper-saturated it is much harder to compete than if an industry has few or no legitimate voices discussing it. When I interviewed Lee Odden recently he stated that one of his niche blogs only takes a few hours of work per month and pays about $400 an hour.

Some people argue that their topic is boring and there is nothing they can write about, but typically that is just an excuse for lazy behavior. As shown in Lee's above example, being one of the few people discussing a topic equates to a larger percentage of market attention and revenue.

RSS is just another doorway to your site. It just make it easier for subscribers to know new information exists. It also helps you build social relationships and trust over time, which is important if you sell expensive products or services.

Most people subscribing to RSS feeds are tech savvy. A few people doing it are thick (as noted here), but for now they are in the minority. As the quality and diversity of content online increase and large tech companies push it more and more people will subscribe to RSS feeds.

Should I Make Pages for My Different Customer Types?

SEO Question: Some of my clients sites have different customer types. I am afraid of pigeonholing the prospects. Should I make pages for the different customer types?

SEO Answer: If the services offered and price ranges are drastically different or people buy your products for exceptionally different reasons then it makes sense to create pages for different demographic groups.

Here are some of the advantages of creating different pages based on different demographics:

  • Most people will not enter your site through the home page: If people do transactional or informational searches they are far more inclined to land on an internal page than a home page. Why? Because there are many more web pages than web sites. Creating the individual pages allows you to drill down and build large quantities of traffic by being relevant for many highly targeted niche phrases.

  • Conversion: pages which speak to a specific audience will do much better than pages that try to appeal to everyone
  • Improved margins and targeting: If you participate in pay per click marketing or any other type of marketing that runs on thin margins creating a page that can convert well to a specific self selected demographic will allow you to continue to compete while some competitors are forced out of the market on margins.
  • More doorways: Each additional page of targeted useful content is another ticket in the search lottery. If your competitors just focus on the generic what words and you create quality targeted content around the why words you should be able to pick off some low hanging fruit.

If most of your business comes from one client type then it may make sense to set the home page to target that market segment by default.

In addition to targeting different demographics it may also make sense to create pages targeting their common questions, problems and important points along the buying cycle.

If your demographic groups and empathetic buying points are vastly different (and perhaps diametrically opposed) it may make sense to create different brands and sites to allow you to target the different demographics without risking offending or turning off other groups.

You can still use your home page to give people the gist of what sets you apart, but by focusing pages on common problems and questions consumers may have, and creating pages for different consumer types you open many additional doors to your site which are also easier to advertise and are more likely to convert.

There are a ton of fun or cool demographic tools or ideas being shared on the web. A couple examples:

Where is The Best Spot to Put Site Navigation?

SEO Question: I am accustomed to left navigation down the left side of the page. Is their any reason your blog has navigation on the right side?

SEO Answer: The original reason this site had navigation on the right hand side was that I liked the default template that had right hand navigation. The site is a slightly hacked up version of an old default MovableType template (I will post a how to hack MT post soon).

I think that for sites selling products it probably does not matter a whole bunch if they use right or left hand navigation.

The way I think of site navigation is that it should help people get where they need to go if the site does not naturally lead them along the way. It should act as a back up.

Many sites screw up by assuming that people will use the navigation. You really want to lead people toward your desired goal in the active window / content portion of the site.

Let people easily achieve their goals or follow through the site down a path that interests them by linking them to where you want them to go from within the content. Both The Big Red Fez and Don't Make Me Think are great books that stress the concept.

I originally had the mini ad for my ebook in the navigational area, and the day I started to put it in line with my content my sales tripled. In the rush to get more traffic or free leads it is easy to forget that the biggest and easiest wins usually come from boring changes back home.

Now that I know enough about CSS to be able to modify it a bit I still do not mind my navigation being on the right hand side because having a bunch of content rich postings right off the start really lends to the brand image that I give away a bunch of information and know a decent amount about the web, plus having the navigation a bit out of the way probably makes my advertising post look a bit more like content. I also think that using up nearly all of the screen real estate with a liquid design may lend to the impression that my site has more and higher quality content, although most award winning designs are not liquid designs.

The assumption that navigation should be on the left side is that way because a long time ago a few big sites did it and then most people followed suit. Having said that, sometimes it makes sense to go against the grain. If your site makes money selling contextual or affiliate ads it makes sense to place advertisements in typical content or navigation areas.

If you look at the Google heat map they show you that the best ad locations are typical content or navigation locations. So if you make your money off AdSense you may want to put your navigation in a right column and place a wide AdSense rail down the left column.

If you also want to place ads near the top of the right column I have found that using AdSense adlinks looks more like navigation and is more likely to get clicked than regular AdSense ads.

Link Building & Traffic Building Tips

Suggarrae posted a bunch of great tips at WMW about how link building for Google has evolved over the last couple years.

To sum it up:

I can say it until I'm blue in the face, but it won't matter. Ranking IS, IS, IS a direct correlation of having a good site with good traffic *idependent* of the search engines. Good content is what gets you the good links which is what gets you the good ranks. A smart search engine is not ranking *new* sites on crap exchanges and directory listings for competitive terms. As someone else here previously mentioned in another thread - thinking in the little metal box of SEO=same old tired links=ranks is not the wave of *today*.

Well worth a read. Check it out.

Exact Match Domain Names Carrying More Weight in Google...

I will compare some stats from SEO Book vs AaronWall.com, with SeoBook.com numbers first

Time online (months): 26 28
Number of posts: ~1,500 ~650
Yahoo! linkdomain -internal links: 151,000 1,770
Average links / page: 1,000 2.5
Bloglines subscribers: ~700 5
Mainstream news coverage: lots little
Alexa ranking: 9,350 208,964
PageRank: 6 5
Google rank for Aaron: 9 186
Google rank for Wall: 21 655
Page Title: Aaron Wall's SEO Book Terist Nuklear Pengwin (don't ask)
Traffic: 4x x (seo book gets about 4 times as much traffic on average days and upwards of 50 times)

Given the above, which site would you expect to rank better for Aaron Wall? Google search results for Aaron Wall.

Now surely covering the topic of SEO and having 1,000 inbound links per post means some (or perhaps most) of my link popularity pointing at this site is shady (or wonky, as Matt would say), but there should be little to no reason why Aaron Wall.com outranks SEO Book for the phrase "Aaron Wall" unless Google is counting the domain name in that. This site has more and better links, more user data, a more relevant page title, more relevant page copy, and even ranks in the top 10 for "Aaron" and #21 for "Wall".

A couple others have confirmed my suspicion that an exact matching domain name can rank a bit better than they otherwise would. Andy Hagans recently posted on the SEO contest, noting 6 of the top 30 results have an exact matching domain name.

Google counting exact matching domains a bit more than you would suspect gives them the ability to allow a site to rank for it's official name while still keeping it sandboxed (untrusted, or whatever term you want to call it) for other phrases until Google learns to trust it.

I don't think my-spammy-mortage-loans.com gets the same love that a mortgageloans.com (or equivalent) domain name would. And there may be some elements that interface with bid price or perceived market value that help determine how well domain.cc, domain.net, domain.com, etc. should rank for "domain" searches, and how quickly they (and their link popularity and usage data) can be trusted.

Anyone done any domain name testing recently?

Lee Odden Interview

I will probably start doing a few more interviews in the coming months. I recently interviewed Lee Odden, who is a well known blogger, SEO and public relations expert.

The Key to Internet Advancement

Seth posts about how controlling your category is important if you want to earn more traffic.

Even one of the world's leading authorities on links think the key to internet advancement is content:

For me it’s about the content. Can I help the content get known or not? I don’t care if it’s a FORTUNE 500 company or a mom and pop site. If the content is about a specific topic and well done, then it deserves to be known and linked. If the content is crap, even if it’s produced by a large corporation, then why bother? It’s not me that gets the links for the content; it’s the content itself that earns the link. I’m just a conduit.

Another Court Case Update...

The judge issued an order on my case today, thowing it out on grounds of personal jurisdiction, stating:

Defendant's blog site while interactive in the sense that it allows individuals to read and post comments on a forum, does not rise to the level of interactivity to tip the "sliding scale" in favor of personal jurisdiction [over a nonresident].

Our motion for summary judgement was moot since courts do not decide liability issues on cases they are not hearing.

The court gave the plaintiff 30 days to request leave to ammend the complaint. As I learn more so will you. Thanks to everyone who has helped me out so far.

Backlink Analyzer Fixed

Some of my friends recently told me that the version of Backlink Analyzer on the site did not do the cross referencing of the anchor text profile. I linked the download page to a version that does.

If you downloaded Backlink Analyzer and you were not able to cross reference the anchor text profile give this version a try. After all the pages are spidered click the search terms button to bring up a full list of words in the anchor text, linking page title, and page copy of the page you are analyzing. You also can enter a phrase or groups of phrases and click the add keyword button to see how often those phrases occur in the anchor text.

I am hoping to have a new version out by the end of the month that will be cross platform, extensible plug-in friendly, and open source...will see how it goes.

Learning Bits and Pieces About Affiliate Marketing...

I have not done lots of affiliate marketing for others yet, but I am still learning some stuff about it. I really would love to learn PHP and go to the Affiliate Summit, but until then I will learn bits and pieces at a time.

Having affiliates can show you some of the unique ways they market. Most affiliates do not push stuff very hard, but around 1 or 2% do. Some will create review sites and then even go so far as to tell you how they are marketing them.

I also am an affiliate for a few companies. It looks like some of them are cross referencing internal information with linkage data to competing sites to push stuff at affiliates.

Where are your favorite sources for affiliate information?

Google's Matt Cutts Confirms Traffic Power Ban

Matt Cutts has confirmed that Traffic Power and some of their clients were banned from Google:

I can confirm that Google has removed traffic-power.com and domains promoted by Traffic Power from our index because of search engine optimization techniques that violated our webmaster guidelines

That is likely a major blow to Traffic Power's legal claims.

Can You Rank Without Relevant Anchor Text or Page Copy?

In MSN I noticed someone ranking #6 for my name even though they have no page copy or anchor text which has my name in it...although their site is co cited many times in articles next to my name...for sending me what I believe to be an absolutely bogus lawsuit.

Free Meta Search Engine Source Code

Want to run your own meta search engine? I made the source code to Myriad Search open source...so if you want it come and grab it.

Google, Yahoo! and MSN are queried via their API programs. Since Ask does not have an API those results are grabbed from Teoma.

Myriad Search makes it quick and easy to see all the top search results at the major engines and then export the results via a CSV spreadsheet. It also allows you to grab Alexa data, if you desire it.

Why Search Algorithms Must Change...

DougS posted a good post at Threadwatch about why he feels current search algorithms will be forced to change sooner rather than later.

The scalability and quality of search spam, search volume, ad prices, ad targeting, and search length have all increased while some of the top search spammers have amassed vaults of cash.

RCJordan thinks scaled sophisticated automation is comming soon, pointing out Pleo:

We are within 2 years of real, true, authentic, themed, auto-gen'd content using AI bots. (Actually, I think some are on the brink now, but didn't want to scare Matt & Tim.) While that is mind-boggling prospect, imagine what 2k, 4k, or 256k smart, funny, prolific, and auto-propagated blog-bitches could, no, will do to the serps.

KidMercury posted that he believes real content producers will have to start focusing more on relationships than just content:

I suppose those who value manual content production will need to focus on personalization, immediacy, and the creation of an identity -- stuff that is more about relationship-building as opposed to content-building.

With that in mind, being real off the web, telling stories that are easy to spread (see Purple Cow and All Marketers are Liars),and who you know are really going to start mattering much more for SEOs than it once did.

The irony of the automated spam generation situation is that as search becomes more pervasive Google creates more value, and passes more of that value back to those who spam, and Google is paying people more to spam than they are paying people to stop it. That is why Google must put so much effort spinning public relations opportunities like they did when they recently banned BMW's website.

What is the Best Reciprocal Link Exchange Software Program?

SEO Question: I was thinking about buying a link exchange software product. I was looking at ___________ and ___________ and wanted to know what one is the best?

SEO Answer: I think Arelis can be decent for harvesting email information, but many sloppy webmasters screw that up by using too much automation. You really need to try to connect to a webmaster, and since each site and each person has different motives anything that is automated or generated is crap.

For example, I recently got this gem of an email:

I'm an editor of a website ______ about watches. I looked through your site http://www.threadwatch.org and I think that it is very interesting. I have an offer for you. I'd like to send you a few of interesting, cognitive articles with unique content about structures and machinery of watches, which will be written by a group of authors. If interested, feel free to contact me. I appreciate your opinion.
Thank you in advance.

Sincerely yours, Anastasia

Notice that they didn't specifically mention link exchange, but they wanted to put link laden content on my site that was unrelated to my site.

Most of the software designed for automation leaves footprints if it generates pages, and / or is crap for other reasons.

And while it may seem like the watch example above is a rare one many authoritative sites tend to rank for terms that are a bit random in nature. For example, Matt Cutts ranks at #173 for Bacon in Google right now. If you fired off emails to the top 200 bacon resources sure enough one of those spam emails would hit Google's search quality / web spam evaluation leader, and obviously that is not a good thing.

The links that you really want do not exist on generic will-exchange-with-anyone link pages. Most of those pages are not designed for humans and are likely rather easy for most sophisticated search engines to detect.

I think pretty lowly of most link exchange networks as well.

Automation works well for some people, but if you are new to the market you probably are not going to figure out how and what to automate until you have a bit of experience. As a general rule of thumb I never automate any human interaction and avoid using software that leaves footprints, especially if that software is typically primarily used by people who aim to game search relevancy.

If you are in a competitive marketplace with a new site and the only links you can get are ones that you have to request then you eventually are going to need to mix up your methods, especially as your market becomes more hyper saturated.

The Super Bowl and Search Engine Marketing

Looks like a couple search marketers used the Super Bowl as a cheap marketing avenue.

Daniel Kovach of SearchArize:
Daniel Kovach, a good friend, and all around swell guy, posted an article about how many of the search terms and ideas surrounding the hype generated by the Super Bowl were clearly under priced in the search market.

I saw some of his stats, and he was able to get over 100,000 ad impressions and hundreds of clickthroughs at under a quarter a click on a campaign that only took him about 15 minutes to put together.

Reprise Media:
Reprise Media did their second annual Super Bowl Search Marketing Scorecard, where they rated the ads and also noted how many companies advertising on TV were absent from search.

Marco Iacoboni:
He did some neuromapping here.

You Know You Have the Heart and Mind of a Search Spammer When...

you decide to name your company (or a pseudonym) with a 4 or a 9 because those are the numbers with the fewest outbound links on the Better Business Bureau Online site.

Google BigDaddy Tool

Want to see the difference between the current and future Google indexes? Try Tony Hill's free BigDaddy Watch tool.

How do I Get Bloggers Attention?

SEO Question: Your mention of blogs got me thinking. Do you know of a reliable "paid to post" service that will not spam blogs but will find related/relevant blogs to post notices about the site I'm launching simultaneous with the launch?

SEO Answer: I would not recommend ideas like pay to post. There are a whole slue of reasons, but at the core of the issue is that the people who are going to be blogging and ranking for terms related to your field can probably burn you pretty bad in the search results if they dislike you. The community aspect of the web is probably the single most important marketing mechanism for the average new webmaster and it is one of the easiest things to screw up.

Here are reasons why the webmasters and site owners should work directly with bloggers and other website owners to market their sites.

  • People who write often tend to also read often. If the people who write often are friends then they likely will defend you or alert you when others bring up your name or brand in a negative light.

  • If you learn the interests of those talking about your topic it is easier for you to appeal to their interests.
  • Search engines want to move toward counting naturally earned organic links. Google is heading that way quicker than Yahoo! or MSN, but you can't count for them to be behind the curve forever.
  • Traffic from related sites should convert exceptionally well, especially if it is from people who write about you or your products in a positive light.
  • It may not be this way right now, but eventually sites that have few or no votes from sites within their topical community are going to struggle to get high enough in the search results to earn self reinforcing links from others outside of their community.
  • With how many scams there are on the net I think people tend not to trust new sites until they are repeatedly exposed to them. If the first exposure smells at all like a marketing message they you may have to pay for any further exposure.

All the above information assumes you want to build a long term brand and business. If your goals are more short term and your name is not attached to the site both low cost outsourced labor and automated somewhat sophisticated comment spam bots can market your message, although that is pretty shitty to do and not something you want to do if you are in the business for the long haul.

Here are a few legitimate ways you can get bloggers attention:

  • Search for what they are interested in and talking about. Create a story that is more comprehensive than anyone elses or takes a different perspective.

  • Create something that is web based that bloggers can integrate into their blogs. Try to make it something social.
  • Ask some of the bloggers that you want to cover your stuff if they would have time for an interview. I have seen exceptionally new bloggers get to interview old time web gurus just by asking. Odds are you may get an I was recently interviewed by link which leads to many secondary links. You also can then offer that blogger a free version of your product as a thank you, although there are still some tact issues with how you do that.
  • Come up with a controversial blog advertising program. Try to involve some big names in it to where all the blogging ethics crew talk about it.

Some people tend to think that you just need enough money to get seen, but that can backfire if you offend the ego of bloggers. All you need to do is find a way to appease their egos.

Recently a few people contacted me with press releases. The emails were deleted and I sent some of the people the optional are you an idiot? replies.

One person was creating a parallel and competing channel and sent me a press release about it. When I suggested that they could buy ads they said that industry news should not need to buy ads. I told them that since they offered me nothing in return I thought they could go to hell.

You don't get much help by telling others what you expect them to do. Especially if there is no return / reward incentive in the exchange.

Occasionally a smart person comes along and doesn't ask for a link. They ask for feedback or my opinion, and in that they likely get greater value. I am not going to link to something that I think is crap, but if I think their product is no good I will tell them why. If I review it and like it then odds are pretty good I would mention it.

When Does it Make Sense to Avoid Vertical Search?

A friend of mine runs a local based vertical directory. When he first started it he listed many local businesses for free, listing their business name and phone number.

As fields got crowded and listed businesses developed websites he started selling links to their sites and top of category placement. $3 a month, $4 a month...$50 a year.

As paid listings started coming in those were listed above unpaid listings, but the unpaid listings were still left on the page to draw in searches for unpaid local businesses and hopefully send them out via the paid listings.

As his site aged and became well trusted he started selling links for $500 to $1,000 a year.

As the search economy developed he started comparing the per click costs for the most competitive terms for each category. He tracks outbound clicks via redirects and then compares that volume of traffic for what it would cost for a person to buy similar traffic from a major engine, using the most expensive terms to further define the baseline.

Then if there became enough paid listings in a saturated field he decided he may even pull some of the free listings to force them into a buy in scenario if they wanted any exposure.

Although much of the traffic that comes into the site is searches for official business names many of the businesses end up paying $1 a click for traffic they would have got free if they would not have bothered to have been listed in the vertical directory.

What value does this vertical search service add to the individually listed businesses? Not much really on a per business basis. The main value is for those businesses that were too clueless to create a site and market it, or for those who have small brands and want to leech off the value of the larger listed brands.

Sometimes intermediaries will raise their costs because their businesses have become more expensive to run, while other times they will raise their costs just because. Eventually search ads (and many vertical search services) become a zero sum game.

  • If you buy in on vertical search services make sure you are not creating competition for yourself that will require you to pay for what you may have otherwise got free. If you do buy in make sure you also market your business directly so you are not as reliant on an intermediary.

  • If you create a vertical search service do not be afraid to give away value until you build enough of a traffic stream that people will pay for it.

How to Create a Giant...

Focus on a niche and focus on getting the right core users.

I have been getting lots of questions about marketing a site on no budget. The words that are used are not the following, but the question invariable is How do I market my bland useless me too site? The answer invariably is don't make your site bland and useless and expect to market it on $0.

There is a balance on time and money. If you can't afford much money to market your site it likely means you do not place exceptional value on your time. Thus they surely can afford to learn about something they are interested in and then share what they learned.

Most information is in one form or another repackaged. As the amount of information continues to grow logarithmically there is going to be an increasing amount of value in being able to create vertical editorial websites that point out the best news and information.

If you have no money to invest in marketing does it make sense to try to learn how to market something useless? Why start your brand with a meeee ttooooo empty product database?

Or does it make more sense to learn your market first, create content about things that interest you, and then later use that channel to help push your other ideas?

A site does not need to be big to make lots of money, but original content that grows over time draws passive traffic streams that continue to grow. It also helps you get quick feedback and allows you to launch new ideas and have them spread quickly.

The guys at Google are geniuses who are amazing marketers and had great market timing. Most people will fail if they try to go that broadly though. Think of how many search engines you can think of. There have been thousands of attempts and almost all have fail.

You can own large verticals with algorithms too though. The guys at Topix, a leading news site, are no doubt geniuses and were able to smartly create amazing algorithms and then use that to leverage great partnerships.

Most websites and webmasters are not going to do fundamentally innovative things that allow them to work on large data sets the way some of the large resource rich companies do.

But you do not have to be a programming whiz or have infinite resources to do well so long as you are:

  • interested in a topic

  • willing to work hard at tracking and learning it
  • focused on a niche
  • opinionated

If you are all of those 4 you should be able to beat out an algorithmic driven process every time. If you can't then it just means you need to focus more on a niche, become more opinionated, or pick a topic you are more interested in.

The feedback cycles take time and unless you are absolutely great at writing the first 6 months to a year can start to look a bit bleak, but after that you should be able to grow quicker than the market does, so long as you did not start off in a niche that was already hyper saturated.

More and more companies are fighting to create ad networks that help automate the monetization of content. If you don't have any money to push an ecommerce site then you might do well to push content creation and leverage that original content, mind share, and traffic flow for profit.